Chestene Coverdale, right, executive director of the Greater Sayville Food...

Chestene Coverdale, right, executive director of the Greater Sayville Food Pantry, and volunteer Marie Bradley, work out of the Gillette House in Sayville on Feb. 28, 2018. Credit: James Carbone

The historic Gillette House in Sayville, home to the Greater Sayville Food Pantry and other community groups, has been without heat or water since early January.

“It has been quite a challenge, not just for us but for most of our recipients who come in for food,” said Chestene Coverdale, executive director of the food pantry. “They are coming from stressful lifestyles. So for them to come here and have to come in and freeze is a totally embarrassing situation.”

Town officials said cold temperatures caused the pipes to freeze and a radiator exploded when the pipes started to thaw. The damage will require the replacement of 27 radiators, a new gas main and changing the boiler and burners from oil to gas.

Town officials say they are working to address the repairs at the home built in the mid-1800s, though their hands are tied until state funding is released. They have offered to relocate the organizations located at the Gillette Avenue building, but food pantry officials said it’s important that they stay to provide consistency and stability to the vulnerable population that they serve.

“Some people have to get a taxi to come here, some people have to get a bus and some people have to carpool,” Coverdale said. “We would be jeopardizing people who are already struggling if we move.”

Town officials said they have had to follow specific procedures to repair the town-owned property, and that they are waiting for the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York to disburse funding before the two phases of work can begin on the house. DASNY officials said they began receiving required documentation from the town on Feb. 20 and were still processing the grant application. They could not provide a time frame for when funds would be disbursed.

“It seems like a long time, but we have to go through a procurement process,” said Tom Owens, Islip’s commissioner of public works and parks. “We wish it was going quicker, obviously. This building is important to us and all the programs in that building are important . . . We’re at the mercy of the state. They know we want to expedite this as quickly as we can.”

Owens said officials have already lined up a contractor for the project, but he had no estimate for when work will begin.

The lack of heat and water has created a few challenges. Officials have cut back the hours of food pantry operation by one hour each of the three days it operates, primarily due to the lack of a working bathroom.

Volunteers have also started pre-bagging food for families to minimize the time they must wait in the cold building for their weekly allotment.

Town officials met with the groups operating out of the Gillette Avenue building — including the Bay Area Friends of the Fine Arts, the Village Improvement Society and The Common Ground at Rotary Park — and have temporarily relocated all but the food pantry to town-provided sites. None of the nonprofits using the site pay rent.

“It was encouraging to know they (town officials) were on top of what’s happening in the building,” said Judy Abrams, president of board of The Common Ground at Rotary Park, one of the displaced Gillette organizations.

Town officials said they have $10,000 set aside for repairs, and have been approved for one $50,000 grant from DASNY and applied for a second grant in the same amount on Feb. 1.

Greater Sayville Food Pantry, by the numbers:

  • 28 years in operation
  • 10 volunteers
  • 314 people served in January

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